Surprised to know the most magical place on Earth was at one time, one of the most bigoted? Yes indeed, Disney‘s racist past has finally caught up with them and they have some ‘splaining to do. So much so that the House of Mouse is putting their own version of “Parental Guidance” stickers all over their earlier films on Disney Plus.
This should be good…
Now, to be fair, that’s regretfully just how it was back then in the 1940s and ’50s. White folk certainly had privilege and self-entitlement, and they used it to make whatever sociopolitical prejudicial statement they wanted. Back in those passive-aggressive days, even movie and television studios got in the act.
(Yes, “Looney Tunes” we’re looking at you too.)
But would it surprise you that such a malaise of this bigotry even glazed the hallowed halls of Walt Disney’s crib? It did in blatant ways. That’s why Disney Plus plans to let everyone know through the coming months that was Disney’s racist past — not the present.
Giving Disney’s Racist Past the Bird
In lieu of today’s sociopolitical climate and the much-needed societal reckoning that is the modern Civil Rights movement, Disney decided now would be a good time to look through its vast catalog and see if Disney’s racist past rears its ugly head.
And man, that is one fugly person upon second glance.
Now, when families scroll through the classics from Disney’s vault and push play on films like Peter Pan, Dumbo, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Aristocats, they will be greeted with a rather detailed warning about “outdated or stereotyped depictions of people of color.”
It reads like this, seen from their new website, which we’ll discuss later:
This message will be seen prior to the play of four films currently on Disney Plus, which acknowledges Disney’s racist past and unconscious bias. The revolting thought is these 12 seconds now span five decades.
- Dumbo (1941)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
- The Aristocats (1970)
Before we explain the math, did you see the original Dumbo? That picture of the crows above is from the 1941 animated classic and those crows are some racist fowl. Seriously, their leader was named Jim — as in “Jim Crow!“ And then there’s the “Song of the Roustabouts,” which is a strange spiritual with young black people working hard, in the rain and the cold and probably for free, and yet…
They’re overworked, underpaid, and enslaved, yet… happy?! Damn, Walt. Just, just…damn.
Stories Really Do Matter
Let’s see: 1940s – 1970s? That’s only four. Look up. Good ol’ Uncle Remus and Song of the South began production in 1939 as an animated project (then live-action in 1946), after Walt Disney bought the rights to the story from the family.
And this is arguably Disney’s most sectarian creation ever!
One, his name? C’mon. But look at him? He’s a sweet and gentle old black man. And in his “Zip-a-dee-do-DAH” world, ain’t nothin’ wrong to be cause ’round of fussin’. His wise musings were called “Plantation Proverbs.”
And among his proverbs was the so egregious and very cringy “Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby.”
Seriously, let’s read this to kids in kindergarten class today and see how fast the PTA is on that teacher’s ass.
This is a cute story in the delightful Reconstruction Era Deep South. Yeah, those were good ol’ days.
So good in fact that Brer Fox tells Brer Rabbit frequently that he’ll “skin ya,” “roast ya,” or even that adored childhood beatitude “hang ya.”
Why is this book and film remembered as sweet? Because of the blatant whitewashing done to the sins of slavery?! Massa and the help didn’t live in harmony at all, but it was depicted as such. Go look it up, just be ready to do much more than provide 12 seconds of insight to your kids.
To wit, Disney created an important area of its site called “Stories Matter.” Essentially, this section of its website, which will also be provided during that prelude statement, focuses on Disney looking at itself in the mirror. Furthermore, they admit the past was harmful and so tone-deaf.
Consider this the olive branch dedicated to a better future. And it should be welcomed.
The people who work at Disney now are not the bigots from the past. They are trying to reclaim the company’s image and revamp its quality at equality in film. They deserve respect for this corrective action.
If you visit the page — and we strongly encourage you do to so, namely if you have kids — you will find a thought-provoking explanation about why these films wouldn’t just be hurled into the Vault’s incinerator.
They believe “instead of removing these offensive films from its library altogether, the company would like to use them as an opportunity to spark conversations about the history with racism these films depict.”
This video introduces that conversation. Way to exorcise those demons, Disney. Honestly, it’s about damn time, too.